Pastoralia

re-read March 2016

Pastoralia, George Saunders’ very funny, often sad, mostly easy to read, collection of short stories is a great addition to any MBA reading list. An odd suggestion, perhaps, but one that will prepare future office workers and corporatists for a life of frustrating middle management. Saunders is a chronicler of the middle manager, or of a management ethos very particular to late stage American capitalism. I’ve never lived a life outside of late stage capitalism, so I can’t say for sure, but something about Saunders’ writing - his painting of mostly frustrated, stunted, men living lives of quiet desperation - fits very well with my experience of people I’ve known in the working world.

A lot of us have been sold the dream, often by the sneakiest of sales-people, our parents and loved ones, that we’re meant for greatness. Instead, most of us find ourselves among other average people. This mismatch makes for fertile ground for a story teller like Saunders. He captures the inner rage of a barber, the fear and shame of an unnamed narrator working in a cave man theme park, the longing of a dead all-to-nice aunt, or people in self-help groups. Some inner working in all these characters made me believe they all had bigger plans, and were left instead to deal with the life they were actually living.

If there wasn’t this mismatch of how amazing we all think we are and how average most of us turn out to be, would Saunders have much to write about? I’m sure he’d find something. But as long as the world works as it does, we have the benefit of having a writer like George Saunders hold a mirror up to ourselves.